Part 24. Thinking of Billy
It’s finally the day of the surgery and I am naked and gowned, ass open to the world, lying in a pre-op bed in the Dolphin Surgical Center at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts. I’m about to have the big cancer operation, the one that will take out part of my ass and use my intestine to build a new butthole.
I’m comfortable with Christian Corwin as my surgeon. His kindness and his confident military swagger remind me so much of my father. It’s like seeing my father alive again, as a young man.
Corwin I know. But I won’t meet the anesthesiologist until right before surgery, when it’ll be too late to change my mind.
I flash back to England, when I was a child. We lived at a U.S. Air Force / Royal Air Force Base in Burtonwood, outside Liverpool.
My best friend, Billy Ellsworth, was the most foul-mouthed kid I’d ever known.
Once, we were playing and he got hurt and we thought his arm was broken. We ran home and he presented his arm to his mother. “It fuckin’ hurts, Mom,” he screamed.
They let me tag along to the base hospital. I told Billy my dad would fix him up. But Dad wasn’t in the emergency room that day and Billy, his mother and I were sent to a curtained-off examining room. The doc on duty came in and attempted to touch Billy’s swollen arm.
“Get your hands offa me, you goddamn rookie,” Billy said. “I want Charlie McKeen.”
Dad loved that story; we all loved that story.
Where are you, Billy? Are you still alive? Did you turn crazy?
I lay there, thinking about Billy, thinking about my father, wondering about the anesthesiologist. Nicole is in a chair in the corner, plunking away on her laptop.
I was a Billy too. We were the two Billys.
Nurses come and go — all of them kind and welcoming. They hook me to an IV, to keep my fluids up. They’re also slipping something in there, they say, something to relax me.
Billy, remember that time you bathed the cat and tried to dry her off in the oven? Good thing your mom came home.
My fate is in the hands of someone I don’t know, but I’m not really worried because I know the quality of the surgical staff.
Billy, are you dead? I think you must be, because I think you’ve come back in the soul of my beautiful foul-mouthed son, Jack. He reminds me so much of you.
True: Jack strings together the most amazing torrents of profanity:
Me: Jack, you need to make your bed.
Him: I’d rather dry the sweat on Gary Busey’s shrunken ball sack.
As I lay there thinking about the anesthesiologist, I imagine saying, “Get your hands offa me, you goddamn rookie. I want Charlie McKeen.”
I do want Charlie McKeen. I want my father so badly, I want him to see me now, to see what I’ve become.
Dad, you’ve got to meet these kids. There’s the three older ones . . . my god, what wonderful people they’ve become. I’m so proud. And then there’s these little ones, crazy and sweet all at once. You’d love them all.
I’ve already lived longer than he did. If I could see him, would he be as he was when he died? How odd, I think — I’d be older than my father. But I don’t care how old he is. I just want to see him.
I tell them about you. The kids love hearing about the trips we took. Sometimes, when I swear, I tell them I’m channeling you in the way I say ‘sonofabitch!’ You are mythic to them. Jack calls you DD, for Dad’s Dad.
Obviously, the relaxant has taken effect. My mind wanders over mental hillsides. There’s my father, and England, and our road trips when he told stories from the driver’s seat. I’ve remembered every word.
I’ve become my father, and now I take the children on road trips. We become that which we love most.
“Hello, I’m Doctor Myers. I’m your anesthesiologist.”
I don’t really care.
I was somewhere in Weymouth, Massachusetts, when the drugs began to take hold.
She seems okay, but I don’t care about a goddamn thing right now.
I smile, a dim bulb.
“We’ll take care of you,” she says, smiling.
What do you think, Dad? In your spectral state can you check her credentials? Is she okay? Does she come up to the Jerry Mitchell standard?
Then the nurses come. Two of them. They stand on each side of the bed.
“We’re going to take you down to surgery now,” one of them says.
“Is it far?” I’m drugged and mumbling.
How about these nurses, Dad? You loved nurses; you said they were the most important part of patient care. I’ve known so many wonderful nurses, starting with Suzanne. She became a great one; you’d be proud of her. What do you think of these two? I like them; the nurses here are great, really nice.
“Mrs. McKeen,” one of the nurses says to Nicole. “If you’ll go to the waiting room, we’ll let you know when he comes out.”
Nicole stands by the bed, holding her laptop. “Good luck,” she says, touching me on the shoulder.
You’d like Doctor Corwin, Dad. So many doctors are assholes, but he’s like you — an anti-asshole: down to earth . . . amiable and compassionate, not arrogant. He reminds me so much of you, Dad. I wish you could meet him.
The two nurses roll me down the hall, out into a corridor, then into a restricted-entry area.
The operating room is large, lit like a circus tent. Music blares. Some of my father’s nurses told me he listened to music while he operated. He loved opera, but also liked pure pop music like the Three Suns and Ray Conniff. Occasionally, he’d spout limericks. My brother is a surgeon now and he carries on the limerick tradition in the operating room.
You know what this room needs, Dad? It needs you blasting the fucking ‘Flying Dutchman’ overture at scrotum-rattling volume. That’s how you used to wake us up every morning. Six o’clock. Remember that, Dad? It pissed me off then, but what I’d fucking give for you to wake me up that way again.
They roll me in under the blinding lights and move the beached whale from gurney to operating table.
Oh, here’s Doctor Myers and she’s talking to me. Can’t really hear, though. She’s got the mask on.
And here’s Corwin, dressed for business, all smile and swagger. He’s saying something too.
What do you think, Dad? I’m pretty sure I’m in good hands. These guys aren’t rookies, but I still want Charlie McKeen.
They’re both saying something but I’m fading. It’s coming up on me now and I feel a fatigued high. I’m okay. I’m okay. I won’t worry.
I love you, Dad.
Doctor Myers places her hand on my head. I look up into the bright light and then there is nothing.